The difference between a moving camera and a static camera may seem small, but it can dramatically increase the production value of a project. Nobody is more essential to making that happen than a dolly grip.
While technically a member of the grip department (the team responsible for most of the non-electric production needs in filmmaking) a dolly grip works just as closely with the camera department, particularly the camera operator.
So, what is a dolly grip? What, even, is a dolly?
A dolly is a cart used in production to create smooth camera motion. Some dollies operate on rails, while others have wheels. Usually, a camera operator sits on the dolly while it moves, lending dynamic motion to a shot. The person that makes the dolly move? That’s a dolly grip.
Think pushing a cart around sounds easy? Well, consider this: a dolly grip is not only responsible for pushing the dolly, but they’re also responsible for building the dolly track. And, if there’s no designated crane or jib operator, they build that as well.
Laying out dolly track is trickier than it seems. It needs to be perfectly level, precisely smooth, and unshakably stable. It’s not unlike building a railroad, except there can’t be even the smallest bump in the track. It’s a highly technical skill, and strenuous too. Those tracks ain’t light.
In The Drift
During takes, the dolly grip collaborates with the camera operator for the movement of the camera. In a sense, they’re operating the camera together, as both are responsible for different movements. In this way, it’s a bit like operating a Jaeger. The two pilots need to understand each other’s movements. Our dolly grips are trained to visualize the camera’s frame, and picture it as they move.
A good dolly grip is one that is not only capable of moving the dolly steadily, but capable of understanding the needs of the scene and interpreting that through the cart’s movement. It’s similar to a puppeteer, who needs to understand that there are a billion ways to raise the puppet’s hand, but only one way that is emotionally right for the scene. A dolly move can track motion down a hall, or side-to-side, push in to emphasize a crucial detail, or pull out to reveal new information as a scene unfolds.
Interpreting the dolly’s action is a crucial skill for a dolly grip, and one that we ensure all of ours have.
A dolly weighs around 500 pounds, depending on the model. Add to that the camera, the operator, and sometimes even a camera assistant. A dolly grip needs to be able to move all that weight smoothly and efficiently. Starting and stopping can’t be jerky or difficult.
We only work with experienced dolly grips, who can provide that soft touch on take one or take one hundred. If you see someone on set that looks like they’re in fantastic shape, good chance it’s one of our dolly grips.
Laying a track, setting marks, going back to one. Sure it’s difficult, but you can reset and try again. At least in most instances. We’ve employed dolly grips for non-narrative shoots, and it’s something that’s distinguished our work from others. A dolly can lend an element of elegance to a moving shot that would traditionally have been handheld. Smoothing and stabilizing software has come a long way, but there’s nothing that compares to the steadiness of a dolly.
The ECG Dolly Grip Difference
Our dolly grips are able to roll with whatever comes up during a live take. They know when to slow down, when to speed up, when to stop. You’ll rarely hear one of our dolly grips request to reset.
Our dolly grips are experienced pros, who often come up through the ranks of the grip or camera department. They’re wizards, able to build tracks on the most uneven of ground, and move that dolly through the most technical shots like a knife through warm butter. When it comes to a moving camera, nothing’s better than one of our dolly grips on set.
If you’re in the market for smooth-movin’ dolly grip, give us a shout! Like a camera op on a flawless set of rails, you’ll be in good hands.